A 9-year-old Australian shepherd mix named Charlie was the first dog to play at the new Bluffton Dog Park, and he’s been there almost every day since.

Charlie’s owner, Lou Valentino of Bluffton, is ecstatic about the town’s new addition, which is located at Oscar Frazier Park.

“I’ve been waiting for it for years, as everybody else has been,” Valentino said. “It’s a great dog park.”

Valentino was so excited about the park opening that he called Town of Bluffton public information officer Debbie Szpanka every day, asking about the progress.

Szpanka said the park couldn’t open until signs were installed, and Valentino would drive by it daily to see how things were going. When he arrived there the morning of Oct. 31, he was thrilled to see the signs were up and a gate was open.

Valentino called Szpanka right away to give her the news.

Twelve years after the nonprofit Friends of the Bluffton Dog Parks was established, the dog park was finally open for business.

“The park actually becoming a reality means a great deal to many people in our area,” the organization’s president, Phillip Robinowich, said. “It’s the fruition of the heart-child of many volunteers.”

The town hosted a ribbon cutting the morning of Nov. 7 to celebrate the much-anticipated amenity. Mayor Lisa Sulka recognized Charlotte Wamser as the first to suggest and work toward the building of the park. “For 12 years, this has been a dream,” Sulka said, “and here we are!”

In her remarks, Wamser added Babbie Guscio and Jennifer Megliore as strong and continuing proponents of the park.

Fred Weiman of Bluffton was there with his 10-week-old Dalmatian pups, Haly and Nuri. “This is great,” Weiman said. “It’s a place for them to run around safely. They can run free – and I didn’t have to build a fence.”

“Bluffton is very dog centric,” Szpanka said. “I think it’s going to be very frequently used, and it’s just an amenity that is past due in terms of interest.”

A sign at the park lists the rules, which include: no digging, no unaccompanied children under the age of 12 and no food allowed. That includes dog treats. “Don’t bring food to the park because some dogs are food aggressive, and that’s when things may go sideways,” Szpanka said.

Valentino plans to take his favorite pooch to the new park several days a week.

“A dog park is an asset to towns like ours because it allows the pups to run their energy out with other dogs,” Robinowich said. “And it also creates a hub for like-minded people to schmooze and develop friendships, which hopefully lead to more socialization opportunities (playdates) for the dogs.”

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.